Madam C.J. Walker: the pioneer of the modern black hair-care and cosmetics industry.

Sunday, 25 July 2021
Madam C.J.Walker built her beauty empire and became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Madam C.J.Walker built her beauty empire and became the first female self-made millionaire in America.

A dream come true! These are the words that best sum up the story of Madam C.J Walker – the first African American woman to be a self-made millionaire.

Born Sarah Breedlove on December, 23, 1867 on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana Madam C.J. Walker was the daughter of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove – both formerly enslaved. Due to hardships and in order to be a homeowner, she had to get married at the age of 14 with a man named Moses Mc Williams. In 1885, they had a daughter called Lelia, later known as A’Lelia Walker, who became the central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Two years later, her husband died leaving her to raise up her only daughter on her own.

A dream that was born from scalp problem.

When Sarah moved to St. Louis to join her brothers and worked as a laundress, she started to lose most of her hair due to a scalp ailment, which is mainly triggered by poor hygiene and diet. She also noticed that many poor black women suffered from the scalp disease, leading her to find solution to cure it. She experimented with different ingredients until she was eventually able to design a secret formula that helps stimulating hair growth.

Up to that time, Sarah got her life more and more improved when she began to sell her products door-to-door in her neighborhoods in St. Louis. In 1905, she moved to Denver where she met Charles J. Walker and to whom she got engaged. Starting from then, she changed her name by taking her husband’s and finally became the well-known Madam C.J. Walker. After her name changed, she founded her business and traveled for a year to promote her products by selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula that she maintained she always dreamed of.

The birth and growth of Madam C.J. Walker’s empire.

In 1910, Madam C.J Walker set up a laboratory and beauty school in Indianapolis, the known nation’s largest inland manufacturing center, and she settled there. In addition to the factory and beauty salon, she also founded a training school. Her career knew a significant milestone as her business continued to grow and her annual sales increased, and she was repeatedly referred to as a millionaire over the last few years of her life. Apart from being a businesswoman, Madam C.J Walker was also highly involved in social and political activism. She advocated for the advancement of black Americans and for an end to lynching. When in Harlem, she took special interest in the anti-lynching movement of NAACP or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She contributed $5,000 to the association.

She worked hard throughout her life, but too hard to the point that she developed some health issues. She got increasingly sick and then died in 1919 in New York. Madam C.J. Walker’s life journey and experience proved that it is possible to reach success and fulfill one’s dreams through hard work, perseverance, and faith.

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations… I have built my own factory on my own ground.”  Madam C.J. Walker, July 1912.

Sources: Madam C.J. Walker website / National Women’s History Museum.

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This website was funded by a grant from the United States Department of State. The opinions, findings and conclusions stated herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Department of State.